“Achilles, dear to Zeus, had fifty ships which he led to Troy. In each of the ships there were fifty companions at the benches.” How, people ask, is it that the Poet who typically augments Achilles elsewhere, diminishes him in this passage? Is it because there is no excellence in numbers?
Aristarchus, however, says that there are fifty rowers [only] because of the phrase “on the benches”, meaning sailors as support crew. Dionysus, still, claims that the greatest number of rowers possible was 120 and that most ships had between these two numbers, so that the average amount was 86 men.”
“It would be annoying to list all the people who spent their lives pursuing board games, ball games, or sunbathing. Men whose pleasures are so busy are not at leisure. For example, no one will be surprised that those occupied by useless literary studies work strenuously—and there is great band of these in Rome now too.
This sickness used to just afflict the Greeks, to discover the number of oarsmen Odysseus possessed, whether the Iliad was written before the Odyssey, whether the poems belong to the same author, and other matters like this which, if you keep them to yourself, cannot please your private mind; but if you publish them, you seem less learned than annoying.”
Persequi singulos longum est, quorum aut latrunculi aut pila aut excoquendi in sole corporis cura consumpsere vitam. Non sunt otiosi, quorum voluptates multum negotii habent. Nam de illis nemo dubitabit, quin operose nihil agant, qui litterarum inutilium studiis detinentur, quae iam apud Romanos quoque magna manus est. Graecorum iste morbus fuit quaerere, quem numerum Ulixes remigum habuisset, prior scripta esset Ilias an Odyssia, praeterea an eiusdem essent auctoris, alia deinceps huius notae, quae sive contineas, nihil tacitam conscientiam iuvant sive proferas, non doctior videaris sed molestior.
“Since he had learned none of the prophecies from the gods. For they report that the Spartans were hard-pressed by a famine and asked the god for the reason. The oracle responded that they should propitiate the gods of the Teucrians, Khimaireus and Lukos. So, then Menelaos left for Troy to complete the tasks he was assigned and after he spent some time with Alexandros he went with him for the purpose of asking the gods about the creation of children.
Alexandros also asked about how he might kidnap Helen. The oracle responded to them: ‘Why do two kings, one Trojan and one Greek / why do you come to my temple with completely different intentions. / One of you seeks to discover the birth of a horse / but the other…..; What are you devising now, Zeus?’ When they failed to understand these things, they returned. This is why the poet says “he did not understand the prophecies of the gods.”
“Listen, put your mind now on true reason.
For a new matter rises fiercely to meet your ears
and a new image of the universe strives to show itself.
Nothing is so simple that at first sight
it is not rather difficult to believe;
and in the same way nothing is so great or miraculous
that over time we don’t slowly fail to behold it with wonder.
Consider first the clear and pure color of the sky
and everything it holds, the wandering stars
the moon and the gleam of the sun with its bright light;
If suddenly mortals now saw all these things
for the first time with no prior experience of them,
could anything possibly be said to be more wondrous
or would the races of men have dared to believe they existed?
Nothing. I believe that is how striking the sight would be.
But now, since we are so used to seeing them,
no one thinks it worthwhile to gaze at heaven’s bright splendor.”
Nunc animum nobis adhibe veram ad rationem.
nam tibi vehementer nova res molitur ad auris
accedere et nova se species ostendere rerum.
sed neque tam facilis res ulla est, quin ea primum
difficilis magis ad credendum constet, itemque
nil adeo magnum neque tam mirabile quicquam,
quod non paulatim minuant mirarier omnes,
principio caeli clarum purumque colorem
quaeque in se cohibet, palantia sidera passim,
lunamque et solis praeclara luce nitorem;
omnia quae nunc si primum mortalibus essent
ex improviso si sint obiecta repente,
quid magis his rebus poterat mirabile dici,
aut minus ante quod auderent fore credere gentes?
nil, ut opinor; ita haec species miranda fuisset.
quam tibi iam nemo fessus satiate videndi,
suspicere in caeli dignatur lucida templa.
About a month ago Hannah Čulík-Baird wrote a blog post about citation of authority and the quotation of fake or misrepresented quotations (among other themes). Now, perhaps it is in part guilt for this site’s own participation in the quotation-economy that drives my interest, but I have been at times obsessed over the past year with false attributions to Aristotle and with coming up with some kind of a scale for the general fakeness of a quotation. But, as I found out at a workshop at MIT organized by Stephanie Frampton, it is not just the ‘vulgar mob’ that is misappropriating the past—no, we professionals have been actively selecting, shaping, and fabricating it for a long time.
Some ways in which we do this are simple, and understated, as in the editing of a text where we apply inconsistent, unfair, or unclear criteria in choosing one form or variant over another. But some things we do are quite bolder. And this brings me to something I love (and Hannah does too): fragments.
I think that there is a misconception—which I once had—that fragments of lost poems and texts are exactly what they sound like—lines that exist on scraps of manuscript, stone, metal, and papyrus. While this is true for a few, the vast majority of the things we call fragments are actually embedded in other places and we have been excising them from the parent text and recreating them as something else since at least the Renaissance. (Florilegia, essentially quote books, and miscellany texts going back even further are another topic too).
Let’s look at two examples of fragmentary epic poets to make some sense of how we are actively engaged in the creation of the past, Creophylus and Peisander. Creophylus of Samos is dated to the Archaic period and is said by some to be Homer’s friend or even son-in-law. He is said to be the author of an epic “Capture of Oikhalia”. The best testimonia (“witnesses”) for this are a combination of imperial Greek (i.e. “second sophistic”) and later, although a passage from the Hellenistic period is embedded in Strabo (Strabo 14.1.18 including Call. Epigram 6 PF; Proclus Life of Homer 5; Hesychius Miletus, Life of Homer 6, Suda k 2376 [drawn from Hesychius]. Also: schol. ad Plato’s Republic, 600b; Photius, s.v. Creophylus).
There are three fragments attributed to Creophylos. They might all be bogus. The first fragment [ὦ γύναι, <αὐτὴ> ταῦτά γ᾿ ἐν ὀφθαλμοῖσιν ὅρηαι, fr. 1] is from the Epimerismi Homerici dated to the early Byzantine period. This line can be justified as an entry in an hexameter poem. But there is nothing about it that makes it necessarily appropriate for a poem by Creophylus about the sack of Oikhalia by Herakles. It could be “To the woman complaining that there was nothing to eat, I said, / “Woman, you see these things in front of your eyes at least…” Or many, many other possibilities. None of which necessarily have to be about Herakles.
The second “fragment” as it is listed in West 2003 is not fairly a fragment at all but two late testimonies to content. The first part is from Strabo 9.5.17 and the second is Pausanias 4.2.3. Both use a reference to Creophylus to or a poem attributed to him to discuss the location of the mythical Oikhalia.
It is, I think, somewhat distortive to even group these together. In Strabo, we get a reference to the “Author of the Capture of Oikhalia” (ὁ ποιήσας τὴν Οἰχαλίας ἅλωσιν) while in Pausanias Creophylus is credited with a Heraklea which told the story set in Oikhalia. Neither “fragment” presents any clear language from a poem. It is debatable, as well, that these references are to the same poem and poet rather than using a brief reference to the past as evidence for the authority of an assertion. The use of these ‘fragments’ says much more about the people whose opinions are being reported, the methods of the authors doing the reporting, and cultural ideas about authority and antiquity than they can possibly say about a legendary lost poem.
The third fragment is also a summary of content and not a citation of actually lines. It comes from the Scholia to Sophocles’ Trachiniae and presents three different numbers of the sons of Eurytus. This detail has been selected for the purpose of showing the range of options and depth of research. It has been selected in service as well of elucidating another text from a different genre and it too says very little about any poem.
There is a circuity in what we say about figures like Creophylus as well. Compare Joachim Latacz’s entry on Creophylus in Brill’s New Pauly to the entry in the Suda:
Here’s the Suda. From what I can see, our official “modern entry” adds the testimonia from above and some details from the Suda with little critical engagement with either.
“Kreophylos, the son of Astukles, a Chian or a Samian. An epic poet. Some say that he was homer’s son-in-law through his daughter. Others claim that he was only Homer’s friend and that after he welcomed Homer he received from him the poem “The Sack of Oikhalia”
Let’s do this again briefly with with Peisander. According to the Byzantine encyclopedia, the Suda (s.v. Peisandros), Peisander of Rhodes wrote about the “deeds of Herakles” in two books in the 7th Century BCE (and Herakles was also prominent in narrative lyric poetry like that of Stesichorus)— but his earliest testimony goes back to the Hellenistic period as well, in an epigram ascribed to Theocritus. But the rest of the testimonia are later: another collection of Strabo, Quintilian, Clement, and more. Almost all of his ‘so-called’ fragments consist of other authors claiming that Peisander gave some version of known tales about Herakles. Here’s a list:
The Nemean Lion: Peisander, fr. 1 (Ps. Eratosthenes, Catast.12)
Sailed Across the Ocean in a Cup: Peisander fr. 5 (Athenaeus, 469c)
Antaeus: Peisander, fr 6 (=Schol ad Pind, Pyth 9.185a) [giant wrestled on way to Hesperides]
Conflict with Centaurs: Peisander, fr. 9 (=Hesychius nu 683)
Sacking of Troy with Telamon: Peisander, fr. 10 (=Athenaus 783c)
Fragment 7 (preserved by the schol. To Aristophanes’ Clouds) has “Athena the grey-eyed goddess made a warm bath for him at Thermopylae along the shore of the sea.” (τῶι δ᾿ ἐν Θερμοπύληισι θεὰ γλαυκῶπις Ἀθήνη / ποίει θερμὰ λοετρὰ παρὰ ῥηγμῖνι θαλάσσης.) In typical late antique style, something about this is repeated at several other places (Cf. Zenob. vulg. 6.49; Diogenian. 5.7; Harpocr. Θ 11.) indicating a proverbial status for the lines or a common source. Other than the contextual information and the tradition that Athena helped Herakles (and other heroes) there is little here that makes a certain part of a poem about Herakles by Peisander.
Fragment 2 is a line with no context from Stobaeus: “There’s no reason to criticize saying even a lie to save a life.” (οὐ νέμεσις καὶ ψεῦδος ὑπὲρ ψυχῆς ἀγορεύειν.). This is another proverbial utterance with nothing particularly Heraklean about it as is fragment 9 (“there’s no thought in Centaurs” νοῦς οὐ παρὰ Κενταύροισι) cited by Hesychius.
So, again, as with Creophylus, Peisander’s ‘fragments’ are for the most part distorted quotations and receptions which are willfully presented as evidence of a lost poem when they are more fairly evidence for the way that ancient authors in the post-Hellenistic period constructed authority or explored variation and multiform myth in their own research and retelling. To be clear: I am not saying that these passages are not worthy of study or that they have nothing to tell us about the past. I am saying that the way we treat them is far from transparent and probably not that useful.
As discrete entries in collections of fragments and encyclopediae about the past, these details seem rather anodyne, but once you really think about them, the patterns they represent should give us some concern about the degree to which we fabricate and stitch together elements of the past to our liking. Once these ‘fragments’ enter scholarly texts—as they do in Davies 1988, Benarbé 1996, and West 2003—they become re-canonized as evidence for lost poems and mythical traditions. The last decade or so has seen an uptick in research and publishing on the fragments of the so-called epic cycle with insufficient acknowledgement for the contribution of this scholarly enterprise—all the way back to the Hellenistic period—in fabricating both the concept and its content.
Such thin evidence is then re-presented as concrete blocks upon which we build intricate arguments. And the level of knowledge, patience and time it takes to evaluate the veracity of these constructions is increasingly available only to a select few. And even those of us who have the time and training to understand that this house of cards is really a sculpture of broken toothpicks and tissue paper are too habituated to the claiming of these textual artifacts as fragments that we are unable or unwilling to call them something else.
For the standard version of the fragments and testimonies see
Benarbé, A. 1996. Poetorum Epicorum Graecorum. Leipzig.
Davies, M. 1988. Epicorum Graecorum Fragmenta. Göttingen
Servius Danielis, schol. ad Vergil’s Aeneid, 1.273,
“There are different accounts provided by different authors on the origin and the founding of the city. Clinias reports that the daughter of Telemachus, named Rhomê, was Aeneas’ wife and that the city was named after her. [….] claims that Latinus, a child of Ulysses and Circe, called the state Rome in honor of his dead sister.”
sed de origine et conditore urbis diversa a diversis traduntur. Clinias refert Telemachi filiam Romen nomine Aeneae nuptam fuisse, ex cuius vocabulo Romam appellatam. ** dicit1 Latinum ex Ulixe et Circe editum de nomine sororis suae mortuae Romen civitatem appellasse.
Servius Danielis, schol ad. Vergil’s Aeneid, 6.14
“Menekrates claims that Daedalus went to Crete after he killed his paternal cousin and that his son Icarus, driven from Attica, died by shipwreck while looking for his father. This is why the sea got its name.”
Menecrates Daedalum occiso patruele fratre Cretam petisse dicit; Icarum filium eius ab Atticis pulsum, dum patrem petit, naufragio perisse, unde mari nomen.
Maurus Servius Honoratus is the original commentator and all-around learned man from Rome. “Danielis” is given to a set of additions that creep into his manuscript tradition around the 10th and 11th centuries.
“Humans are foolish and dumb because we mourn
The dead but not the wilting flower of youth.
Take some pleasure, my dear heart. For all too soon
there will be other people here. And, dead, I will be dark earth.”
“Mêrionês then killed Phereklos, the son of the carpenter,
Son of Joiner, who knew who to fashion all sorts of intricate tings
With his hands. Pallas Athena loved him especially.
He is the one who designed Alexander’s fantastic ships,
Those kindlers of evil which brought evil on all the Trojans
And on him especially, since he understood nothing of the divine prophecies.
Well, Mêrionês, once he overtook him in pursuit,
Struck him through the right buttock. The sharp point
Went straight through his bladder under the bone.
He fell to his knee and groaned. Then death overtook him.
Whole Schol. bT ad Il.5.59 glosses the name Phereklos as “one who brings the turmoil of war through the ships” (Φέρεκλος ὁ φέρων κλόνον διὰ τῶν νέων), I would also like to believe that name Phere-klos, might make someone think of ‘fame-bringer’. And the connection between poetic fame and the activity of the war arises elsewhere in this passage two.
Note that the this Phere-klos is the son of Harmonidês, a man who, according to the passage, is the one who build the ships “the bringers of evil” (ἀρχεκάκους) for Paris (those ships which carried him from Troy to Sparta…). The name Harmonidês is not insignificant: Gregory Nagy has etymologized Homer as “one who fits the song together”. Phereklos’ father is a “craftsman” (“tektôn”) who built the very ships that allowed his son (and Paris) to bring the conflict to Troy and generate the fame of the songs it generated. Here, the ships are positioned as the first steps in evil, but I would suggest, that as the means by which the songs themselves travel across the sea, the ships are, as products of specialized craftsmen, both metonymns for the stories themselves and necessary vehicles for their transmission.
If this is not too blinkered or mad a suggestion, perhaps Phereklos’ death here is a reassertion of the poetic power of song over the pragmatic craft of shipwrights….